Stephen McHattie talks A Little Bit Zombie
By Anne Brodie May 17, 2012, 14:11 GMT
Infected by a virus, a mild mannered HR manager attempts to fulfill his overwhelming desire for brains, all while trying to keep it together so as not to incur the wrath of his bridezilla-to-be. ...more
Stephen McHattie says he doesn’t know why horror filmmakers turn to him so often for the showiest parts. They do though, and amongst his vast credits are more horrors than most actors have done or would hope to do in a lifetime.
There are other genres, in film on TV and onstage, but McHattie has something fierce and profound about him, and horror may be his natural home.
This month Casey Walker’s A Little Bit Zombie hits the theatres featuring McHattie as the exuberantly out –of-control undead hunter who wields his gun like a macabre dance partner.
There is something originally energetic about his work in Zombie together with arrogance so complete that it’s endearing.
Monsters and Critics asked McHattie how he finds his always colorful characters.
“I think it’s mostly people I run into. Not in a direct way. I read a part then I don’t try to think of them but they just kind of start appearing and I start thinking about certain people and narrow it down and it just happens like that. I have never been stuck, well, a few times I couldn’t figure out what to do. You get into something and it’s not turning out the way you thought it was going to – the other actors you’re cast with, the writing or the director.”
What do you do when you can’t figure it out? “That’s when you really need to act. I grew up in a big family and I was the youngest and always on the outside watching and I didn’t want to be observed. But I watch people. I try not to let them know I'm watching them. Dubuffet a French painter said if you want to look at something, look at it directly. It’s more kind of getting a feeling about somebody rather than a direct examining them. Like a creature. I get a feel for it and I file it back in my head. It kinda happens.”
McHattie’s career is the embodiment of an actor’s dream. He’s had remarkable professional connections with some of the greatest actors of the last forty years. His first film The People Next Door, 1970, gave him the opportunity to work alongside Eli Wallach, Hal Holbrook, Rue McLanahan, Cloris Leachman and Julie Harris John Carradine.
He worked with Max Von Sydow, Yul Brynner, Charlton Heston, John and David Carradine, and Robert Duvall, all in his first decade in film.
“I worked with Colleen Dewhurst and Rex Harrison. Great people, great fun and strong actors and personalities. I was a kid with these giants. Doing theatre in New York and it was so different from now, you did TV and you did movies, all that bullshit but the theatre was much stronger then and in New York everyone knew everyone. It was terrific.”
Repertory theatre features an ensemble sharing and switching roles, but it’s a theatrical form that’s mostly gone by the wayside. Some examples today are the annual Shaw and Stratford theatre festivals, but the grassroots rep group is hard to find.
“I always wanted to be in a rep company doing a different part each night. Growing up I saw a lot of theatre and rep companies. The magic was, to me, how you could go from role to role, lead, supporting and almost see more of the actor in a weird way the more they were disguised. So that was always good. I did rep theatre for quite a while and enjoyed it but then the rep crashed in the 70’s. That whole world is gone now.”
McHattie’s career spans the globe, but his preference is to stay at home in small town Ontario as much as possible. He’s content to make a few trips aboard as long as he knows where he’s going afterwards. It’s especially interesting that he has had such a thriving, international career while defying the conventional wisdom of relocating to Los Angeles or New York.
No, it’s southern Ontario all the way for Stephen McHattie. It’s been no hindrance. In 2011 alone, seven of his films were released.
“I get alarmed by it. I’ve had great luck. I like being in Canada. The planets have to be aligned in a certain way to make me work anywhere else. Growing up in Nova Scotia, I realized the longer I was away, away the more I appreciated it.”
Seinfeld fans will remember McHattie as Elaine’s psychiatrist and boyfriend Dr. Reston. Thanks to the constant loop of Seinfeld reruns McHattie’s almost more familiar as Reston as he is for any other role. So how did that iconic role change things for him?
“I didn’t do a comedy again for fifteen years!”
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